Often, we think of other language schools as being our competition. People who work at other educational institutions are colleagues first, and competitors second, not the other way around. This is a call for professional compassion and relationship building to help one another success.
The gap of compassion and understanding widens into a chasm when educational leaders who run schools that receive government see themselves as having nothing in common with private schools and vice versa. It gets worse when leaders from one type of institution look down upon fellow administrators who work in another type of institution. I have heard university program administrators speak about private schools as being “poor quality” simply because they do not have the history of the academy. Private school managers sometimes think universities are outdated and don’t listen to the needs of the students. On and on the arguments go.
The bottom line is that the people who work at other institutions are our professional colleagues. Not only would I call for compassion in the profession, among teachers and administrators alike, but also, I urge us to treat one another with respect. This is a topic that could be discussed at length, so for now I will simply suggest that treating each other with more than professional respect alone is not enough. Together we form a community of language teachers, school administrators and managers. We are very proud and protective of our individual schools and programs, which is admirable. I suggest that we take it one step further and become proud of our profession and (heaven forbid someone should use the term when referring to education) our “industry”.
Every language school can benefit from developing excellent relationships with other programs. In order for this to happen effectively, we each will need to stay informed about what programs are offered by other schools and how you can help each other succeed. This may mean simply having a directory of local language schools on hand or a Rolodex full of useful contacts at other schools.
Share information about other schools. Recommend students to your competitors if you can’t help them. For example, if a student comes to you looking for a program that you do not offer, why not refer him to a nearby school that does offer that type of program? Even better, give the student the name and phone number of a person there who can help him out. That way, you won’t be sending the student on a wild goose chase, but you will be giving him a solid lead. This is not only professional courtesy, it will help the students.
Moreover, you will be giving the other school an excellent referral. In return, you can ask that your colleagues send students to you, if they can’t help them.
But don’t stop there.
Use this tactic to build relationships with other schools. If you receive a student because someone at another school recommended your program, give that person a call to thank them. Here’s an example of what you could say:
“Hi, Joe. It’s Mary calling from XYZ language school. Thanks so much for referring María García to our program. It was exactly what she was looking for. I sure appreciate you letting her know about us. I look forward to returning the favour when I have a student who fits well into one of your programs. I hope you’re having a super semester over there at ABC language school. Talk to you soon….”
By following up and acknowledging your colleagues for helping you out, you will help to create a bond with them that, over time, could develop into a strong professional rapport.
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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.